By Carol Tice
If you're tired of desk jobs that leave you no time to work out, consider switching to a career where you buff up on the job instead of getting flabby. While labor-saving devices have made many jobs easier – think logging and the invention of the chainsaw – there are still plenty of jobs that require physical fitness. Some of these pay quite well, particularly jobs that also expose workers to physical danger, notes career expert Laurence Shatkin, author of 175 Best Jobs Not Behind a Desk.
Because so many Americans are out of shape, if you're physically fit you gain an edge in applying for physically difficult jobs, says Brian Sharkey, co-author of the 2008 book Hard Work. You need to be in shape to qualify for many tough jobs, and for jobs such as fire fighter, you'll need to pass a fitness exam annually.
If you're out of shape and want a shot at a physically hard job, allow several months to get in shape, Sharkey recommends. Prospective employers can provide information on the physical requirements for their jobs and in some cases can offer training recommendations. In general, Sharkey says most women need to build up their strength, while men often lack the aerobic conditioning needed for many tough jobs.
"You need to have endurance to do something like fighting a wildfire all day long," he says.
Here are some of the best-paying jobs that require you to stay in shape:
1. Sheet metal worker
It's sweaty, dangerous work fabricating all the metal pieces needed in buildings, from downspouts and siding to air-conditioning ducts. Apprentices usually do four or more years of classroom and on-the-job training, and demand is expecting to grow 6 percent in the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.
Median annual salary: $52,829
2. Police and Sheriff's patrol officer
They may have a patrol cars-and-doughnuts image, but in reality law officers may need to sprint after a suspect or wrestle them to the ground. BLS reports future demand for officers is expected to grow 8.7 percent.
Median annual salary: $50,190
Working around potentially dangerous electrical wires all day, electricians need physical strength to bend conduit, climb or lift heavy objects. They may also need to stoop or kneel for long periods as they wrestle wires into place. As we head into economic recovery, demand for electricians is forecast to soar nearly 12 percent, BLS says. Apprenticeship programs usually last four years. Shatkin says demand may be better than initially forecast due to the electrical component in booming green technology, with electricians needed to wire solar panels.
Median annual salary: $45,524
4. Fire fighter
Blazing heat, blinding smoke, irregular hours...what's not to love? Firefighting attracts people who thrive on danger and can go with the flow. Most firefighters work for local governments. Population growth in coming years will see this occupation grow more than 18 percent.
Median annual salary: $44,795
5. Brickmason or blockmason
Bricklaying is one task that's still done by hand – lifting heavy materials into place and stooping or kneeling are common workday activities. Apprentices train three to four years. BLS forsees more than 11 percent growth in the field, with particular opportunity for workers with restoration skills.
Median annual salary: $40,656
Business reporter Carol Tice (http://www.caroltice.com) contributes to several national and regional business publications.
Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.